“Son, I Think You Ought to Try This”

Mike Farley saw a lot of racing in the IOR generation of Maxis, then came his last big gig in competition as project manager for Alaska Eagle in a Whitbread race around the world. His gift to the next generation of sailing was way-doggies different. Sean Farley, the newly-crowned world champion of kite racing, recalls events this way: “My dad saw people kiting in the early days in Southern California, and he picked up a magazine—it was probably the second edition of a kitesailing magazine ever put out—and he brought it down to Mexico, to Colima. That’s where I was ...

9th August 2009.
By Kimball Livingston

Mike Farley saw a lot of racing in the IOR generation of Maxis, then came his last big gig in competition as project manager for Alaska Eagle in a Whitbread race around the world. His gift to the next generation of sailing was way-doggies different. Sean Farley, the newly-crowned world champion of kite racing, recalls events this way: “My dad saw people kiting in the early days in Southern California, and he picked up a magazine—it was probably the second edition of a kitesailing magazine ever put out—and he brought it down to Mexico, to Colima. That’s where I was born. That’s where I live. And Dad said, “Son, I think you ought to try this.”

Oookay.

kites_approach

“We got on the internet and found some gear,” Sean Farley said, “then my best friend and I just, well, figured out how to do it. We didn’t have a clue.”

Oookay again, similar to most of the sailing world when it comes to kiting. Kites became an ISAF class only last year, and if you haven’t been up close it’s impossible to imagine how it paints sillygrins on spectators. If you think sailing is going to remain in the Olympics (it is) but you think kites aren’t part of that future, take two Reality Pills and call me when you wake up.

Yep, I’m a wildeyed radical. I’m also a traditionalist who believes that Stars belong in the Olympics because they represent the heritage, talent, and backbone that define who and what we are.

Kites demand a breeze, but surely by the time kites receive serious consideration for Olympic sailing we will have solved the issue of boneheaded venue choices. Tell me we will. Please.

Now back to the subject:

Not often does something come along that’s every bit as cool as you hoped. The inaugural Kite Course Racing World Championship, completed Saturday on San Francisco Bay, filled the bill and had the halls of the St. Francis Yacht Club looking like Woodstock West.  Sean Farley was up front, not only on the course but also in declaring that he had been “getting my tail kicked by Bruno Sroka” in World Tour events in Europe before Farley set up camp in San Francisco and started to work the Crissy Field “problem” for all it’s worth.

And did it matter?

“Absolutely,” says Farley. “I changed my fins a little, but the focus was on getting my kites dialed in. I had eight kites, with dedicated lines for each one of them, and I wanted to get my body in gear by going out three hours every day. I worked myself that way for three weeks. I was getting my arms pulled out of their sockets in the wipeouts.”

That’s the Golden Gate wind slot for you, but as it happened, Farley trained in winds that were higher (much higher) and air that was colder (much colder) than race week served up. It was a hard July, just one of those strange, local phenomena. Mark Twain never said it, but somebody did,  so it should have been Mark Twain, “I spent the coldest winter of my life one summer in San Francisco.”

From Sean Farley’s point of view, “I overtrained, but sometimes that’s not bad. In the racing I never lost my board.” Of the eight kites in the quiver: “I used four of them, or maybe it was three.”

What it Really Is

There was a steep learning curve for most of the riders at this event. For some, even if they had “raced” in World Tour competition, it was their first exposure to the Racing Rules of Sailing. That said, we can probably agree that in any yacht club there are people who claim to be masters of the game of racing under sail who have yet to gain a genuine mastery of said rules.

But this was also, truly, a fest. I’ve never been live to a World Tour event, where the tricks and stunts are astounding and the presentation is entirely commercial. This was about being accepted into the community of sailors, under the rules and under the roof of a “yacht club.” I can honestly state that I have never been to a sailing event where the cheering was as hearty or sustained for tenth place through first. Something happened here.

Photo by Erik Simonson, h2oshots.com

Photo by Erik Simonson, h2oshots.com

Laylines

Sean Farley dominated, but it seems clear to me that if Bruno Sroka had spent three weeks on the bay ahead of the regatta, instead of five minutes, he too would have had a shot.

In the final race, Sroka did what Farley did in a few of his races and gained a lead that was as-unassailable-as-it-gets-unless-the-wheels-fall-off. Then the wheels fell off. Sroka lost track of the laps on the short up-down course and sailed toward an extra lap, instead of going through the finish line. He opened the barn door, wide open, to Denmark’s Bjoern Rune Jensen. Then, realizing his mistake, Sroka turned around for a proper finish in ninth, with double points counting 18. Even if he had won the race, it would not have have been enough to move him to third, so let me continue to speak as a witness.

I said already that this was a fest. Sroka was more than roundly cheered. This small, special community was perfectly clear, and St. Francis Commodore John McNeill noted that, by honoring his mistake, Sroka “demonstrated that the game has staying power.”

And being a San Francisco Bay partisan, I found it very cool that two of our own finished second and third among 64 riders. Chip Wasson is a stalwart on the scene, one of the inspirational figures who set the tone for kite sailing on San Francisco Bay. Farley had finishes of 1-1-4-1-1-3-2 (double points in the final), and wrapped with 17 points to Wasson’s 30.

Wasson won only one heat but had a passle of seconds and never finished below fourth. Here’s Chip (#15) hitting the beach for a high five with another top-ten rider, Jesse Richman.

Chip_and_Jesse

Sitting in third with 48 points, kite newcomer Johnny Heineken was the Star is Born newbie who looked as if he had been doing this for years. He won two heats and contended in the finale until he missed a layline. And tacked into a hole. And went from contending with Sroka to . . .

D – screaming F – L

And the hole was a hungry hole.

“And my kite fell out of the sky.”

Sixth was a comeback, good enough, with 15 points in the bank.

According to John Gomes, the godfather of this show, “We’ll do this again next year. We just don’t know yet what we’ll call it.”

It must be yachting. It happened at a yacht club—Kimball


About the author:

Kimball Livingston

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Kimball Livingston is a former senior editor, and now editor-at-large, for SAIL. His work also has appeared in Sailing World, Cruising World, Soundings, and more. Over three years, Kimball sailed the Centennial Transpacific, Centennial Newport-Bermuda, and 100th Chicago-Mac. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.KimballLivingston.com.
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